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Play It Forward: George Clinton Is Everyone's Hype Man

Originally published on May 19, 2021 6:12 pm

On the last episode of Play It Forward, our series in which artists tell us about their own music and the musicians who inspire them, All Things Considered spoke with Angel Bat Dawid, the improvisational musician from Chicago. She told us about her connection to the pioneer of funk: George Clinton.

"George Clinton always did his own thing and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most," she said. Dawid wanted to tell him that he was a great inspiration. "You showed me how to be myself. I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime."

Clinton says he got butterflies hearing that praise.

"I'm old as hell, but I still feel good when you hear somebody that appreciates you with that kind of soul in their voice," he says.

Clinton spoke to NPR's All Things Considered about the longevity and enduring influence of his band, Parliament Funkadelic, on being a hype man for other musicians and an artist he's grateful for: opera singer and funk keyboardist Constance Hauman. Listen in the player above and read on for highlights from the interview.


Interview Highlights

On creating a legacy that would last across generations

"That was our intent. We started out back in the '50s and early '60s, when stuff like West Side Story was out and Broadway-type songs. So I always had that theory in my head that I didn't want to just be a singing group of musicians, I wanted to be a thang. That's why we called it Parliafunkadelicment Thang. We wanted to be theatrical so it'd last for years, not just for the Top 10. That's what I aimed it for, to last so long. That gave us a lot of room – we didn't have to be whatever the Top 40 was doing, but then again, we could do that if we felt like doing it."

On doing his own thing, even when it was difficult

"[It was difficult] in the early '60s, because we changed so radically with Funkadelic and realized that Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and all of that was coming. Rock and roll was getting ready to take over, and that sounded like the music my mother used to listen to, just played loud.

"[We were] more bluesy. We just named the group Funkadelic and went to [the] rock and roll-psychedelic era [with] Free Your Mind ... and Your Ass Will Follow. And it worked out pretty good."

YouTube

On hearing the influence of P-Funk in the music of today

"[I hear it in] the nerve of certain people to do their own thing. You can feel it. Most of the time it's the nerve — for them to do whatever they're doing.

"That is funk. Funk is whatever it needs to be to give you that freedom, to let go and try whatever you're doing. You're being funky when you just let yourself go and freestyle, or whatever you want to call it."

On bringing out the best in people as an arranger and producer

"I push whatever it is they're doing. I give them that gratification, what you looking for when you're playing, that hypemen give you. Your ego is the better performer than you, most of the time. That's the time you can really use it. It's a hard time to put him back where he belong after that, but you need it in the studio, on stage, in performance — or, at least, I do.

"I just feed off of people appreciating and responding. And so when I see somebody's playing a solo, I take the mic — even though it's going to drive the engineer crazy — and go put it on the speaker. It's loud, but that's the energy. The person usually ends up playing 10 times better because they're getting that approval, and everyone's participating and everybody's happy."

YouTube

On the multi-talented Constance Hauman, who Clinton has nominated for the next Play It Forward...

"She has a group, Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf. I found that out [that she's also an opera singer] ... after we'd been on the road [together] for almost a year and half. She opened up for us at B.B. King's in New York [and] we ended up working together almost two years, all through Australia, Europe, everywhere. But I had no idea about the opera part of it until somebody said, 'Constance sing[s] opera herself.' They showed me a video and I'm like, 'Oh my god — what?' I had to call her up and say, 'You didn't tell me about this!' "

"Blew me away. So I was already proud of the fact that we'd worked together, but then it was like a whole new thing now that I'm seeing that she's got all this talent. When they asked me to do this show, that's the first thing that popped out of my mouth, before you finished telling me what it was about.

... and a closing message for Hauman

"I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you ready to hit the road again? We've got some unfinished things to do. We were right in the middle of recording some of the shows live when the pandemic started ... I'll see her in outer space."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's time for another episode of Play It Forward, where artists tell us about their music and the musicians who inspired them. On our last episode, we spoke with Angel Bat Dawid, the improvising musician from Chicago who told us about her connection to the pioneer of funk, George Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANGEL BAT DAWID: First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day probably of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic, Parliament - our road trips, everything. He was a hero of my father, you know? The music is just so good, you know? Like, George Clinton always did his own thing. And those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most. He was just the ultimate arranger, producer, know how to put things together, all the elements.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to George Clinton next. So what would you like to say to him?

BAT DAWID: I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. Like, I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime. Thank you, George Clinton.

SHAPIRO: And George Clinton joins us now. Welcome to Play It Forward.

GEORGE CLINTON: Wow. Thank you for having me here.

SHAPIRO: How do you react to what we just heard from Angel Bat Dawid?

CLINTON: Wow, I got to get the butterflies out. I'm old as hell, but I still feel good when you hear somebody...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CLINTON: ...That appreciates you with that kind of soul in their voice.

SHAPIRO: That's so sweet that that still gives you butterflies after all this time.

CLINTON: Oh, yeah, you and my ham (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter). What's it like to hear that you're not just influencing a musician working today but, like, literally multiple generations? Her father was a huge fan of yours.

CLINTON: Well, I mean, that was our intent, you know? We started out back in the '50s and early '60s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART TROUBLE")

CLINTON: (Singing) Worry angel's got a hold on me.

When stuff like "West Side Story" was out - you know - and Broadway-type songs.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CLINTON: So I always had that theory in my head that I didn't want just to be a singing group of musicians. I wanted to be a thing. That's why we called it Parli-Funkadelic-ment plan, you know? We thought that we did it like that.

SHAPIRO: You mean you wanted to be theatrical?

CLINTON: We wanted to be theatric, so it lasted years, not just for the Top 10. That's why I aimed it for it to last so long. So...

SHAPIRO: Wow.

CLINTON: ...That gave us a lot of room. We didn't have to be whatever the Top 40 was doing. But then again, we could do that if we felt like doing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MISS WHAT YOU CAN'T MEASURE")

FUNKADELIC: (Singing) Grief has got a hold on me. I can't think for myself. It's all because that woman of mine making love to someone else.

SHAPIRO: So Angel Bat Dawid talked about how you always did your own thing. Can you tell us about a time that that was especially difficult?

CLINTON: Oh, yeah. In the early '60s because we changed so radically with Funkadelic, I realized Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and all of that was coming. Rock 'n' roll was getting ready to take over. And that sounded like the music my mother used to listen to, just played loud.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And you went, like, more freeform, more radical.

CLINTON: Yeah, more bluesy, you know?

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CLINTON: We just named the group Funkadelic and went to the rock 'n' roll psychedelic era.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW")

CLINTON: Whoa, ha, hey, of Funkadelic, "Free Your Mind Your Ass Will Follow" (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CLINTON: And it worked out pretty good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW")

FUNKADELIC: (Singing) I'ma (ph) having no mercy.

SHAPIRO: Where do you hear the descendants of P-Funk in the music of today?

CLINTON: On the nerve of certain people that do their own thing. You can feel it, you know? Most of the time, it's the nerve for them to do whatever they're doing.

SHAPIRO: Interesting. So it's not necessarily like they're doing a new version of funk. It's that they are doing something new in the same way you were doing something new.

CLINTON: That is funk. Funk is whatever it need to be to give you that freedom, you know, to let go and try that, whatever you're doing. You being funky when you just let yourself go and freestyle or whatever you want to call it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "DO THAT STUFF")

SHAPIRO: I'm curious - you know, you're not just famous as a performer but also as an arranger, as a producer, as the leader of Parliament-Funkadelic. And so talk to us about how you bring out the best in other people, your collaborators, the artists you're working with.

CLINTON: I push whatever it is they're doing. I give them that gratification, what you're looking for when you're playing that hype men give you. Your ego is - it's a better performer than you are most of the time.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CLINTON: That's the time you can really use it. You just - it's a hard time putting back where you belong after that, but you need it in the studio onstage and performing. At least I do.

SHAPIRO: So how do you do that? Like, what do you say when you do?

CLINTON: I just feed off of people, you know, appreciating and responding. And so when I see somebody playing a solo, I'll take the mic, even though it's going to drive the engineer crazy and go put it on the speaker. It's loud, but, you know, that's the energy. The person usually end up playing 10 times better 'cause they're getting that approval. And everybody's participating, and everybody's happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "DO THAT STUFF")

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, George Clinton, it is your turn to play it forward. So tell us about an artist who you are thankful for.

CLINTON: OK. Constance. She have the group Miss Velvet And The Blue Wolf.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISS VELVET AND THE BLUE WOLF SONG, "SUPER BON BON")

SHAPIRO: OK. So this is Constance Hauman. She has this band called Miss Velvet and the Blue Wolf, but she's also an opera singer.

CLINTON: I found that out a year and a half later after we've been on the road for almost a year and a half. She opened up for us at B. B. King's in New York. We've been working together almost two years all through Australia, Europe, everywhere. But I had no idea, again, like I said, about the opera part of it till somebody said Constance sing opera herself. And I said, yeah? And they showed me a video. And I'm like, oh, my God. What?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CLINTON: I had to call her and say, you didn't tell me about this.

SHAPIRO: OK, so just for comparison, let's listen to her group Miss Velvet And The Blue Wolf, which you've collaborated with. She's on keyboards here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISS VELVET AND THE BLUE WOLF SONG, "BAD GET SOME")

SHAPIRO: And then let's listen to a track of her singing opera as a soprano.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONSTANCE HAUMAN: (Singing).

CLINTON: That's phenomenal, blew me away. So, I mean, I was already proud of the fact that we had worked together, but then it was like a whole new thing now that I'm seeing that she's got all this talent. So when they asked me to do this show, that's the first - that popped out of my mouth before you finish telling me what it was about.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to Constance next. So what would you like to say to her?

CLINTON: I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you ready to hit the road again?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CLINTON: We got some unfinished things to do. We was right in the middle of recording some of the shows live when the pandemic started. So tell her I'll see her in outer space.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Funk legend George Clinton, architect of Parliament-Funkadelic, thank you so much for talking with us.

CLINTON: Thank you, man. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And we'll talk with Constance Hauman on the next episode of Play It Forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAUMAN: (Singing). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.